About Susan I. Spieth:
Grew up in New Hampshire, went to West Point in 1981 at 17 years old. Graduated in 1985, served 5 years in the Army as a Missile Maintenance Officer. Earned a Masters of Divinity in 1994, ordained in the United Methodist Church in 1996. Served several churches for 17 years. Retired from clergy to write the Gray Girl Series; authentic fiction about the early years with women cadets at West Point. Married for over 30 years with two adult children.
What inspires you to write?
My years at West Point from 1981-1985 altered my DNA. I knew, even then, that I would write about those experiences one day. It only took me thirty years. I fictionalized my books so I could include experiences from other women and to write a more interesting story. West Point had its exciting moments but death and deception make it even better. The first book, Gray Girl, is about Jan Wishart's plebe (freshman) year at the military academy, where she's facing an honor trial and trying to catch a predator. Area Bird, is the second book in the series, about Jan in her yearling (sophomore) year. Her involvement with a secret assignment makes her coming of age year even more crazy. Cow (junior) year finds Jan struggling with creepy events which lead to a deadly encounter, in Witch Heart. The fourth book in the series will be out in 2019.
Tell us about your writing process.
I do not outline, although I write down major plot points and smaller anecdotal events I want to include. I look for things that really happened at West Point or one of the other service academies, and then I use those events as nuggets for my story. In Gray Girl, for instance, many of Jan's experiences are similar to mine or other women during the first year at West Point. In Area Bird, I used an Air Force Academy (AFA) article about the high attrition of women as a basis for the story. In Witch Heart, I used another AFA article which revealed a sanctioned spying program. Once I have a general idea for the story, I sit down and write on my laptop. I'm not a desk person. I usually sit on my couch or other comfortable spot with the laptop resting on a cushion on my lap. I hate having the computer directly on my body as I feel like it will create cancer or something. I try to have at least two full hours of uninterrupted writing, four is even better. I find that once I am in the "zone," I don't want to leave it. No television but maybe a little soft music in the background. Nothing that is distracting. Sometimes, I do get up to go to the bathroom or eat something, however. I try to write at least 1,000 words in one sitting. I can write up to 3,000 if I have the time. I usually have to take a break at that point. I don't edit too much during these writing sprints. At the next session, I re-read what I wrote from the last time. I make small changes and edits, but I usually don't make major changes. I just start writing the next part. When I've finished writing the whole thing, I upload it and get draft copies made. Then, I hand them out to several beta readers and ask them to tear it apart. Tell me where it gets boring, tell me where it's confusing or tiring; mostly big picture stuff. Then I use their suggestions (criticisms) to revise as needed. Once all the revisions are made, then it goes to an editor for fine tuning.
For Fiction Writers: Do you listen (or talk to) to your characters?
I try to pretend I am my characters. In other words, I imagine what they may think or feel. I try to put myself in their shoes, at least for the main characters.
What advice would you give other writers?
Read the book, On Writing, by Stephen King. Excellent advice in there, especially for those of us who are not detailed outliners, and who may not even know where the story is going. He advises that you don't worry too much about plot. Just write, write, write. And the story will come. I find that to be true.
How did you decide how to publish your books?
When living in Seattle, I attended a self-publishing seminar with several successful self-published authors as panelists. They shared the advantages to self-publishing and why they chose that route. They said that even with traditional publishing, you still have to manage your own websites and do a lot of your own promoting. Also, you keep all the rights to your work. There are pros and cons either way, but I found that I didn't have the patience to do all the query letter stuff and the research needed to find the right publisher, etc. Although I am considering re-trying the traditional route for future books. I found that I like the autonomy of self-publishing, and I can edit/update my books as needed. However, it is harder to market books if that's not your thing. I'm constantly learning and trying new ways to promote my books. It's a work in progress.
What do you think about the future of book publishing?
Self publishing has become a game changer for many of us. And the internet has given us a worldwide audience. But because anyone can publish anything, there seems to be a a lot of crappy stuff out there. Without a standard for publication, almost anything goes. The saturation of so many books makes it harder to get your book noticed. I think traditional publishers will still be helpful as the "standard bearers" for good books. That said, there are a lot of great self-published books too, it's just harder to find them and harder to promote them.
What genres do you write?: Fiction-new adult, coming of age, military suspense, women's empowerment, strong heroine, young adult series
What formats are your books in?: Both eBook and Print, Audiobook
All information in this post is presented “as is” supplied by the author. We don’t edit to allow you the reader to hear the author in their own voice.